Do You Have to Hang Out With People When Grieving?

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Social Q’s

My mother is in hospice and in the final weeks of her life. Yet my husband’s brother and wife have asked if they can stay at our house for a weekend visit soon. I also receive invitations from family and friends who should know that now is not a good time to ask me to parties or other events. What are the rules for giving grieving people space (even before the actual demise) without forcing them to repeatedly explain what they are going through?


We all suffer losses that knock us out — whether they are traditionally expected to or not. (We know what we feel, right?) My mother’s dying was such a loss, and it sounds as if yours is, too. I am sorry for you. But hunting for rules and (perhaps) the small satisfaction of finding tone-deaf friends and relatives in breach of them seems like the wrong tack. Some may be reaching out to support you.

Let’s create a better game plan. Delegate chores and ignore voluntary activities to maximize time with your mom and take care of yourself when you are not with her. Enlist your husband as your partner. He can cancel his brother’s visit. Now is the definition of “an inconvenient time.”

You also enjoy complete dispensation to ignore social calls and party invitations. They are not life-or-death; time with your mother is. Circle back when you have time and feel better. If you are temperamentally unable to leave calls and emails unreturned, ask your husband or a pal to be your amanuensis. You will be shocked at how compassionate people are. We all grieve. And thoughtlessness is often a temporary failing.

Quitting? Tell the Boss First

I am 27 and have been at my job for 18 months. I love it, and I’m close with my co-workers. But I have decided to move with my boyfriend of several years to the West Coast. He was admitted to a good graduate program there. I am happy about the move; there are plenty of opportunities in my industry. But I am struggling with telling my co-workers. Can I tell them before I speak with my boss? (When should I tell him?) It feels like I’m hiding things from my friends.


Speaking (again) of my mother, a secret, she used to say, is just a head start. It will get out, even among friends. And your boss should hear the news of your departure from you. Do not tell your co-workers first. I get that this puts you in an awkward position with them, but life is sometimes awkward.

Speak with your boss between two and four weeks before your intended final day at work. You want to give him enough time to replace you, but not so much that you begin to resemble dead wood. Thank him for your great experience and tell him about your relocation plan. If it sounds as if I am asking you to walk on eggshells, I am. I have seen workers — without legal protection — be terminated on the day they gave notice. We want a happier landing for you and ideally, a reference for your West Coast gig.

A Substitute for Shaking Hands

I have developed arthritis in my hands to the extent that shaking them is painful — and really painful when the other person has an iron grip. What is the best way to avoid this? Offering my left hand doesn’t work; my arthritis is just as bad. And when I say I have arthritis, it often doesn’t register. The other person looks puzzled or offended.


In a slightly mortifying third reference to my mother, let me tell you how she handled this problem. (It looked elegant from a distance.) When people extended their hands to shake, she would lightly squeeze both of their upper arms (beneath their shoulders and above their elbows) and say: “Shaking hands bothers my arthritis, but it’s lovely to see you.” For sporty types, there is also the fist bump. But that has never been my thing.

Sidestep the Grudge Match

Two years ago, my mother and my aunt (her sister-in-law) fought over a clumsy comment my mother made about a mutual friend. I would have expected things to have blown over by now; they have not. My mother refuses to speak with my aunt and has banned my father and me from speaking with her, too. My aunt is coming to my town — not where my mother lives — and I would like to see her. But I would hate to betray my mother, and she would be heartbroken if she found out. What do I do?


Your mother is acting like a petulant child. (Perhaps your aunt is, too.) That is their right. But adults may not ban each other from speaking with other adults. Have a nice lunch with your aunt. Make sure to avoid any discussion of her squabble with your mother. That is not your business. If your mother has a problem with this, refer her to me. Loyalty does not extend to silly grudges.